Addicts need to learn tough love

I am a 56-year-old man. I always read your columns and find them very helpful. I grew up without parents; they died when I was six years old and I grew up with other people. It was very difficult and I was often abused physically but I managed to get a good job. I got married but got divorced after 10 years. Three children were born out of my marriage. The problem I have with them is that at 18 years old they both got hooked on unga and it was hard for me to understand because I never used drugs in my entire life. Eventually my eldest stopped using drugs about two years ago. The other one stops and starts again, and this has been going on for years now. He also likes to steal and does not work. If I put him out he breaks into my house to steal. It freaks me out and I have sent him to the best rehabs in Cape Town. I need help because I am at work during the day and I have locked him up a few times, but it does not help. I can’t sleep at night and worry during the day. I get these feelings where I can’t sleep, feel hot and cold, and stay tired and restless. Can you please advise me on what to do.

Having gone through a very traumatic and difficult childhood and then turning your life around and succeeding in spite of your past, is admirable.

This shows your resilience, strength of character and spirit. I am truly sorry to hear about your children who have been and are addicted to drugs.

Addiction and its effects on the family can be devastating and the symptoms you describe are concomitant with those of a very exhausted and burnt-out parent, who has given to the extreme to cope with, and help, his children out of addiction.

However, attempting to deal with this level of addiction on your own can be overwhelming and exhausting.

You need support to cope with this and cannot do it on your own anymore.

Contact Nar-Anon on their toll free line which is 088 129 6791 or search for a group on the internet in your area.

They run a 12-step programme for both addicts and their family members which you can attend with or without your sons.

Most people who attend these weekly meetings find the support very helpful. Connecting and sharing your struggles with others who are in the same position can make a significant difference in feeling less overwhelmed and realising that you are not alone.

It is also recommended by addiction experts that you not enable the addict by constantly being there for them but allow them to feel their pain by hitting rock-bottom.

This is called “tough love” and although this is understandably very hard for any parent who deeply cares about their child, it is important for you and for your son to realise that he needs to take responsibility for his life and choices, as well as to start a journey of recovery from addiction.

Often addiction is also about feeling a sense of emptiness and loss of love and attachment to significant others.

This makes me wonder about the absence of their mother, as you do not mention her much, and how this may have been a significant contributing factor in their attempt to self-soothe and escape from their emotional pain and loss of a significant “love object” at a tender age through drug addiction. These issues are also often addressed in many 12-step programmes.

My thoughts are with you and I share with you the “Serenity Prayer” which is also often used in 12-step programmes and ritually recited at meetings: “God (Higher Power), grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

I read about your tips for anxiety and stress in the newspaper. I was diagnosed with depression at 19 and later bipolar disorder. I am now 52 years old, a chronic patient and I struggle with anger problems. How can I implement your suggestions further.

Mental health problems are as common as physical illnesses but often people do not take them as seriously as bodily illnesses. Yet often mind and body problems are connected.

Mental health problems can have equally debilitating effects, if not much more severe, in terms of their impact on people’s lives and the next generation.

The World Health Organisation and various other global health organisations have done research on the extensive, and adverse impact, of chronic mental health problems. Sadly, not enough attention is given to mental health by governments across the world, yet it causes severe dysfunction in the lives of citizens and their ability to be productive in life.

However, I believe that despite mental health services being limited, there are available resources which can be accessed to manage various mental health problems.

The external ones are, for example, accessing community clinics and NGO services that offer support such as Cape Mental Health Society, and psychiatric hospitals in the vicinity including Lentegeur, Stikland, and Valkenberg hospitals.

Usually the latter runs groups for various psychological difficulties including anxiety and depression, stress and anger management.

These groups are usually facilitated by a trained mental health professional.

In many cases with more severe mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder or various forms of psychoses, the person would need psychotropic medication. Just like a physical ailment needs medication, there is nothing to be ashamed of regarding getting this kind of support.

The more help you can get, the more you will be able to manage your life.

Internal resources can be facilitated through daily practice of the suggestions I made in my previous column including daily quiet time/meditation; exercise, especially out in nature; taking time to slow down; and mindfulness or a mindful attitude, of paying attention in a non-judgemental way to what you are doing in each moment.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. She will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist.

You can write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.